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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Part 1: Open Sesame... Seed, That Is

Used extensively worldwide, sesame seeds are the seeds of a cultivated annual herb known scientifically as Sesamum indicum of the sesame family. In Chinese the sesame plant is called zhi ma or hu ma, meaning "oily hemp" or "foreign hemp". A native of southern Asia and now cultivated in Burma, China, India, Sudan, and many other tropical countries, the sesame plant is hairy and grows to a height of about 1 m. (3.3 ft). It has an erect stem with leaves that vary in shape and size from oval to narrow and oblong or palmately three-lobed, measuring 3 to 10 cm. (1.2 to 4 in.) long, with petioles 1.5 to 5 cm. (0.6 to 2 in.) long. The plant flowers from June through August. Its fruit is a capsule containing numerous seeds. Sesame seeds are harvested during the fruiting period (August and September) after the capsules have turned yellowish black. Whole plants are cut at their base and tied in bundles, with their tops together, and dried under the sun. After drying the seeds are separated by thrashing, and extraneous, non-seed material is removed. Further drying yields the sesame seeds sold commercially.

Two major types of sesame seeds, black and white, are derived from the black and white varieties of S. indicum respectively. The small shiny seeds are smooth, oval, and flattened. They are nutritious and contain about 55% oil (fats), 26% protein, and 9$ carbotydrates. They also containVitamin E, folic acid, nicotinic acid, and minerals (especially calcium). Sesame seed oil contains mainly oleic and linoleic acids (each about 43 %), 9% palmitic acid, 4% stearic acid, and small amounts of sesamol and sesamolin.

Sesame seed oil, also known as benne oil or teel oil, is obtained by pressing the seeds. There are two kinds of oil, one prepared from roasted, and the other from unroasted seeds. The former has a vrey fragrant aroma and the latter has hardly any aroma at all. Roasted sesame seed oil is a popular condiment in Oriental foods. On the other hand, unroasted sesame seed oil is used primarily in pharmaceuticals. It has similar properties to those of olive oil; it is used as a vehicle (carrier) in intramuscular injections and in other pharmaceutical preparations for its laxative, emollient (softening) and demulcent (soothing) properties. Roasted and unroasted sesame oils cannot be used interchangeably.

In Western countries, sesame seeds are commonly used on bread, crackers, and rolls. The white variety is generally preferred.

Experiments performed over the past few decades, mainly by Western scientists, have found sesame seeds to lower the blood sugar level but to increase the liver and muscle glycogen levels in rats.

Sesame seed cake, obtained after expressing the oil, when used as feed, was found to be toxic to domestic animals. Calves eating too much of this sesame seed cake were found to exhibit signs of eczema, hair loss, and itching.

To Be Continued.
Come back next week when we will discuss sesame's traditional uses and reveal a few home remedies in part 2 of "Open Sesame... Seed, That Is".

This information is excerpted from Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs. This publication includes further information and home remedies using sesame as well as over 45 other herbs.

Learn more about sesame and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

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